San Telmo, Buenos Aires' first suburb, was originally inhabited by sailors, and takes its name from their wandering patron saint. All the same, the mariners' main preoccupations were clearly less than spiritual, and San Telmo became famous for its brothels.
That didn't stop the area's first experience of gentrification: wealthy local families built ornate homes here in the early 19th century, but ran for Recoleta when a yellow-fever epidemic struck in 1871. Newly arrived immigrants crammed into their abandoned mansions, known as conventillos (tenement houses). Today these same houses are fought over by foreign buyers dying to ride the wave of urban renewal—the reciclaje (recycling), as porteños call it—that's sweeping the area and transforming San Telmo into Buenos Aires' hippest ’hood.
Although San Telmo does have its share of sites, the barrio itself is the big attraction. Simply watching the world go by as you linger over coffee is one quintessential experience. Soaking up some history by wandering down cobbled streets edged with Italianate townhouses is another. You can get closer to the past at two small museums, or even take a piece of it home from the shops and stands selling antiques and curios. However, there's plenty of contemporary culture on offer in the neighborhood's art museums, cutting-edge galleries, and bars.